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All parties agree to tougher lobbying rules in wake of Rahim Jaffer scandal

Former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer waits to testify before the Commons government operations committee on April 21, 2010.

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Rahim Jaffer is still making his mark on government legislation nearly two years after he lost his seat in the House of Commons.

MPs from all parties voted Wednesday to stiffen lobbying rules in the wake of allegations that Mr. Jaffer and his business partner, Patrick Glémaud, lobbied officials without registering as lobbyists.

The Liberal motion, passed by unanimous agreement of the parties, requires lobbyists to publicly declare when they meet with parliamentary secretaries. That's a direct response to the revelation Mr. Jaffer met with Brian Jean, the parliamentary secretary to Infrastructure Minister John Baird.

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Mr. Jaffer and his wife Helena Guergis, former minister of state for the status of women, are being asked to testify together June 9 at a Commons committee studying allegations of improper lobbying and conflict of interest. Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud appeared two weeks ago, but MPs say they want to press their former colleague on certain discrepancies.

The private investigator whose information spurred Prime Minister Stephen Harper to remove Ms. Guergis from cabinet in late March is expected to appear next Wednesday.

Despite the rare show of Commons unity on the Opposition motion, the Liberals and Conservatives tussled over which party has the toughest policy on lobbying.

The Tories tried to one-up the opposition by challenging the Liberals to support a measure that would include MPs, senators and the staff of the opposition leaders' offices among designated public office holders covered by lobbying legislation. That would mean parliamentarians would not be allowed to lobby for five years after leaving office.

"In my opinion, this shows once again that [Ignatieff]is more concerned with his own interests than those of Canadians," Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he had no objection, but would first have to see the full details of what the Conservatives were proposing. Would constituents who seek help from MPs for immigration issues be considered lobbyists, he asked.

He suggested the main goal of the Tory proposal was to take the political heat off the government.

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"Anything to take the weight or the pressure off them," he said.

"What we've got to remember is they're the people accused of influence peddling, they're the people accused of lobbying, they're the people accused of breaking their own rules."

But Mr. Ignatieff turned the pressure back on himself by telling reporters his daily appointment book was open for all to check for meetings with lobbyists. When journalists later asked to see the agenda, his office backtracked.

"Mr. Ignatieff will have no problem opening up his agendas when ministers and the prime minister will," said spokesman Michael O'Shaughnessy said.

None of the proposed lobbying changes would have made a difference in the Jaffer and Glémaud affair.

The pair has maintained that they were simply seeking information regarding government funds, and never lobbied any of the officials they contacted. Neither registered as a lobbyist, and therefore never declared any of their meetings.

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Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glemaud contacted at least six ministerial offices over the last year with inquiries about funding programs of interest to their renewable energy company, Green Power Generation.

The Commons government operations committee had hoped to question Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt, and Mr. Jean on Wednesday, but all declined invitations to appear. A staff member in Mr. Paradis's office had pushed bureaucrats at his former Public Works department to meet with Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud.

Ms. Raitt has said she checked her office for evidence of contact with Mr. Jaffer and Mr. Glémaud, and found none.

But the Liberals say they know otherwise.

An Access to Information Act request filed by the Liberals with Natural Resources Canada has turned up documents, although they have not yet been released. The department told the Liberals that they are in the process of consulting with other departments and "third parties" before they can release any records.

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